Fault Lines
9 November 2018

Louisiana Now 0 For 2 On Blue Lives Matter Prosecutions

November 3, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Back in May, Louisiana enacted the so-called “Blue Lives Matter” bill, which amended the Pelican State’s hate crime statute that enhanced the penalties of certain crimes if the victim was chosen “because of actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel.” The hate crime enhancement added five years, consecutive, to any punishment assessed for the underlying crime.

This week, a Louisiana judge dismissed an attempt to charge Frenwick Randolph under the hate crime statute. This is on the heels of the Orleans County District Attorney refusal to charge Raul Delatoba under the same statute. Both of these cases present excellent examples why hate crime laws in general, and the Blue Lives Matter bill specifically, are bad ideas.

Let’s start with the law itself. The statute says:

It shall be unlawful for any person to select the victim of the following offenses against person and property because of actual or perceived race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry of that person or the owner or occupant of that property or because of actual or perceived membership or service in, or employment with, an organization, or because of actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel: [long list of crimes].

Next, let’s consider the facts of Delatoba’s case:

New Orleans police arrested a man this week and charged him with a hate crime and other offenses after police say he damaged a window at a French Quarter hotel and then shouted slurs at a witness and officers, according to the man’s arrest warrant.

Raul Delatoba, 34, was booked Monday (Sept. 5) on charges of simple criminal damage to property, disturbing the peace and a felony-level hate crime, his arrest warrant says. During his arrest, but after he had broken the window, Delatoba is accused of using sexist and racial slurs against police officers, the document shows.

See the problem? Delatoba wasn’t “selecting” a victim based on their race, gender, or uniform. He was some drunken dumbass in New Orleans who broke a window and yelled racial slurs at some people, including the cops when they showed up to arrest him. Unless Delatoba was breaking the hotel window because it was hosting the International Sisterhood of Lesbian Buddhist Policewomen or something, that’s not a hate crime,[1] and the District Attorney was correct not to charge it that way.

Randolph’s case went like this:

Court records show that the NOPD booked New Orleans’ Frenwick Randolph, 33, with both a felony hate crime and terrorizing, based upon a phone call the man made to a 911 operator around 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 26. Randolph told the dispatcher “he was going to shoot and kill any officer that responded to the call,” according to arrest documents sworn by responding NOPD Officer Corey Clark.

Magistrate Commissioner Robert Blackburn, however, found last Wednesday that the NOPD had failed to substantiate its appraisal of a hate crime or terrorizing, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Blackburn found no probable cause for either complaint, but ruled Randolph could be jailed on a lesser allegation of criminal mischief. Blackburn set Randolph’s bond at $7,500.

Which is weird sort of call to make — why call 911 to say “If any cops show up here, I’ll kill them!” if no police are bothering him at the moment? In any case, when the police showed up, they didn’t find a weapon on him, only a cellphone and some weed.

He was charged with “terrorizing,” which in Louisiana means

the intentional communication of information that the commission of a crime of violence is imminent or in progress or that a circumstance dangerous to human life exists or is about to exist, with the intent of causing members of the general public to be in sustained fear for their safety; or causing evacuation of a building, a public structure, or a facility of transportation; or causing other serious disruption to the general public.

What Randolph did doesn’t fit the terrorizing statute, as his conduct had nothing to do with the general public. Since the hate crime charge was tied to the terrorizing charge, both got thrown out (though he’s still facing a charge of criminal mischief). New Orleans is now 0 for 2 in attempts to apply the Blue Lives Matter Law.

So does this show that the system works? Not quite. The law is still on the books, and you can bet the police will continue to arrest people who annoy them, request hate crimes charges, and let someone else sort it out. Also, prosecutors can still use the threatened enhancement as a bludgeon to coerce pleas to weak charges.

This is why hate crimes laws are a bad idea, especially ones that “protect” law enforcement. Breaking windows is already a crime. So is misuse of 911. The fact that someone said something mean to the police while committing them doesn’t merit extra punishment. This sort of thing has been going on since the dawn of time.[2] The law was supposed to be a shield, not a sword.

[1] Though if it had, could Delatoba be charged with five hate crime counts (one each for gender, sexual orientation, religion, membership in an organization, and law enforcement status)? But I digress.

[2] The first documented instance of abusive behavior towards the police was when Cro-Magnon Man made obscene grunts rude gestures toward fellow tribe members who caught him fornicating with the mastodon carcass.

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